Do not be turned off by Trumaine Lamar's familial connection to MC Hammer.
He owns no genie pants. Does not rock a high-top fade. Is unlikely to cover Addams Groove anytime soon.
But Hammer — a cousin on Lamar's father's side — is still an influence on the family.
"I've known him ever since the days when he was huge," says Lamar. "Me and him are not personally close, because I was really little. But him and my brother know each other extremely well, and my dad knows him, so we do contact him when he does come to town, and when he comes to Orlando, too."
Smart thinking. With Lamar's own musical career taking off, it couldn't hurt to have a connection in the biz.
At age 27, Lamar is set to become Tampa Bay's coolest new R&B crooner, with a jazzy, neo-soul flow reminiscent of John Legend, Musiq Soulchild or his idol, Stevie Wonder. Blending silky vocals with ambitious, innovative orchestration and samples (J Dilla, Flying Lotus, Bilal), he's earned slots opening for Chrisette Michele and Joe. Later this month, he and his band will fly to Pittsburgh to perform alongside Brian McKnight.
On July 1, Lamar dropped his debut mixtape, Things I Should've Told Her, which is available as a free download on his website.
Born in Nebraska, Trumaine Lamar Burrell moved to Tampa as a toddler and grew up surrounded by music. Two older brothers are rappers and producers, and he studied voice at Blake High School, performing in musicals like The Wiz (he played the Cowardly Lion). He still sings with several choirs in his church. But he'd been experimenting with more commercial production since his early teens.
At Florida A&M University, he met a Tallahassee musician and producer named Brandon Crumbley, who goes by the name Brandon*. Lamar and Brandon* bonded over their interest in production and similar musical tastes, and both eventually moved back to the Tampa Bay area. When it came time for Lamar to record Things I Should've Told Her, he turned to Brandon* for the beats.
"It was just a matter of sitting back and going through different racks, whichever ones spoke to me first, and really just hit me," he said. "I like a little bit of everything. I can definitely go from Stevie Wonder, who is probably my absolute favorite artist ever, and I can jump right into a Flying Lotus instrumental album and play them back to back. I'm very broad when it comes to music."
He says he's been fortunate to score gigs with the likes of Michele and Joe, as well as at a Super Bowl party in 2009 — especially since it can be tough for R&B singers to gain exposure in the bay area. "It's a little frustrating, because you want to have more places to go, even beyond perfecting your craft — just to enjoy music," he said. "I'm a music fan first."
Lamar has been pushing Things I Should've Told her largely through social media and music blogs, and is receiving positive reviews. He and Brandon* are already writing songs for his debut album; he hopes giving away his mixtape for free will help build buzz among fans.
"I wanted something that would grab people's attention," he said. "If you get into it and you like what you hear, hopefully when I'm coming with something for purchase, you'll want to buy it."